Commercial real estate solicitors are hard to find. This is a problem Scottish private practice law firms have been facing for decades.
With little sign that the recruitment of commercial property solicitors is set to ease, employers need to think more creatively. Simply holding out for a like-for-like hire may not be the best option.
In this article, we discuss four approaches which could help hiring partners.
Put simply, there is a perception that commercial real estate is an unattractive area in which to practice. Corporate law, employment law, intellectual property law, information technology law, and dispute resolution law – these are just some areas of the legal sector often viewed as offering more interest and excitement.
Certainly, the work can be on occasion slightly repetitive and transactional in nature. However, it suits a certain type of individual who is organised, able to multi-task on multiple deals at one time, with a caseload containing scores of files, and all at different stages in the process.
Clients in this area can be highly demanding and as a commercial real estate lawyer you will be exposed to them at an early stage, which can be quite intimidating – especially if you are a more junior solicitor. Occasionally variety can be lacking, especially if you find yourself focused on a niche silo, such as general purchase and sale or landlord and tenant work.
But what a lot of solicitors don’t appreciate is that the working days will be busy and the hours generally more sociable and predictable than in other transactional practices.
Demand, too, has been constant over the last decade. Admittedly there was a slowdown in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, but generally law firms are always on the lookout for experienced commercial property lawyers.
For employers, how can this gap between supply and demand be bridged?
Prevention is always better than cure. Law firms need to do more to raise the standing of commercial real estate law within the sector.
With most post-qualified solicitors rotating through three or four different disciplines during their traineeship, employers need to work harder at capturing talent at this crucial point.
One way is to engage, recognise and reward trainee solicitors during any commercial real estate ‘seat’ or rotation. If someone shows genuine talent and aptitude for the subject, make it known to them and the wider business.
People enjoy what they are good at and are good at what they enjoy.
Retention during the training period is a very effective and cost-effective means of solving this recruitment challenge.
Hiring law partners need to be more open to candidates who may not have extensive commercial real estate experience. Think laterally, think creatively. Could a strong candidate with a residential or rural conveyancing background be a good fit?
If not, what cost to the business is there in holding out for the perfect candidate? Arguably, it may only take three to six months for a candidate with associated experience to be trained up. Dismissing this option could leave a hole in the firm’s fee generation for a year or more.
If you have a specific problem, create a specific solution. Admittedly, this is not an immediate fix, but it is a smart and strategic approach to a longer-term issue.
Creating a tailored traineeship which addresses the commercial needs of the firm has many benefits. It puts investment where it is needed, it is more cost effective than an experienced hire and it creates a post-qualified lawyer who is a real subject matter expert.
It might seem nonsensical to suggest that if you are struggling to hire one commercial property solicitor, hire two. But if you are innovative in how you structure the role, you can make it highly desirable. In doing so, you could more than double the number of candidates available to you.
The position could involve a job share, flexible working and working-from-home components. Yes, there is the risk of issues surrounding continuity, but two capable professionals can make this type of arrangement work.
It also sends a powerful signal to your clients, competitors and employees that you are a progressive and forward-thinking law firm.
Recruiting the best people can be challenging, but it’s always worth doing. When roles are difficult to fill, hiring partners need to think outside of the box. They need to work with their HR colleagues and external recruiters to come up with creative and flexible solutions.
Commercial real estate lawyers are likely to be in demand for many years to come. Chasing what everyone else is chasing – a like-for-like hire – is not always the most sensible, effective or commercially-sensible recruitment strategy.